02 December 2009

Making Implements of Faithfulness

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4, TNIV)

Last night the President of the United States, Barack Obama, told the world that he planned to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan in order to combat Al-Qaeda and establish peace in that country.

This morning I read that the Lord will be the one to bring that peace into the world by judging between nations and settling disputes. Additionally, those nations will then turn their weapons of war into tools for agriculture (read: growth). They will also no longer express hostility toward other nations or train their young men (and women) to fight in wars.

Why do we believe violence is the way to peace? Is it because that's the way we've settled our disputes in the past? Is it because we are afraid to actually sit down and talk to one another? Is it because we may actually have to change our way of doing things if we re-evaluate our current practices? Is it because we are too afraid of letting God call the shots in our lives to actually give scripture the authority we say it has? I am not sure, but what a picture of the Kingdom Isaiah gives us here!

A couple of definitions:
Plowshare - a tool "used to create deep furrows in a cleared field that could then be sown with seed"

Pruning hook - a tool "used to prune grapevines, produce high-quality grapes, and speed the harvest"
In the midst of a world that so willingly escalates violence, what place does an image of surrender have? Not surrender in the sense of giving up, but surrender in the sense of giving over - giving over control of our lives, our families, our nations to the One who loves us so much that he came into our world and became one of us.

As we prepare to celebrate the Advent of the Christ-child, let us remember that he came to share a vision of the Kingdom of God and bring that to fruition. I believe that his vision includes turning weapons of war into tools for fruitfulness.

Loving God, help us to live in accordance with you so that the weapons we turn against each other may be transformed into implements of faithfulness. In Jesus' name. Amen.

23 November 2009

Grace Anatomy Outtakes

As promised, here are the outtakes from our day of filming. You will enjoy these!

22 November 2009

Sanctifying Grace

The last of our three-part series is on Sanctifying Grace - the grace that makes us holy. I pray that this series has helped you understand a little bit more about the Wesleyan understanding of grace and how it impacts your faith and life.


Come back tomorrow for the outtakes from our day of shooting!

16 November 2009

Justifying Grace

Here is the video we didn't show on Sunday morning. Enjoy - there's more to come!

Prevenient Grace

During our "Grace Anatomy" Series at University UMC we shot a three-part video depicting a West Texas Thanksgiving as the openers for each week's message. We showed this video on November 8th. Enjoy!

02 November 2009

What's Your Business?

For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth." (Acts 13:47)

When E. Stanley Jones asked an 82-year-old man, "What's your business?" the man responded, "My business is witnessing for Christ." He then told of his conversion to Christianity (from Buddhism) and his ministry to pray for and evangelize everyone he meets.

It's a good question..."What's your business?"

A profound question when you stop to think about it in terms of our whole selves. We often wrap ourselves up in our job titles or name plates or positions within our respective companies (churches). But how often do we stop to consider how our Christian calling plays a role in our business? Or perhaps should be our business?

Why is it our natural tendency to think of what we can do ourselves before we think of about what God can do?


What Happened to October?

Sorry for my unexpected absence from blogging during October. I have been tweeting, so you can catch up on some of my activities that way if you'd like.

I have something to say now, so I'll post a little later today.

29 September 2009

Shift Happens...What Are We Doing About It?

The ways people connect with one another are changing rapidly. How is the church leveraging the shift that is already taking place to connect with those who need to hear the gospel?

Now you know.

HT: Kem

23 September 2009

Verb or Noun

I just love this one! The shift from "noun" to "verb" is difficult, but a very necessary one.

21 September 2009

(Mis)Alignment and (Mis)Direction

I just have to go on record saying that I have been incredibly encouraged by E. Stanley Jones and his 1954 devotional, Growing Spiritually. I have been reading it for 10 days now and each morning has been a feast of meat to chew on for the rest of the day. Thanks to ChrisY for putting Jones on my radar!

As Jones writes about guidance for a nation (or individual or church) he is trying to explain the importance of mission. A mission is vitally important to the ongoing movement of an organization, nation or individual - without it a vacuum is created and anything can rush in to fill the void.

Jones says, "Individuals and nations [and churches] must not only move; they must move in the right direction under God's guidance" (275). Essentially, alignment must be combined with motion. When an organization has misalignment there are forces pulling the organization in conflicting directions.

Misalignment does more damage and creates more wear and tear on an organization than does misdirection. Misaligned people are only a few degrees off-kilter, but they pull the organization in ways that cause the leadership to be constantly making mid-course corrections in order to maintain the proper direction for the organization.

Misdirected people pull their weight in the exact opposite direction from the organization - they tend to slow down progress, but they do not cause wear and tear on the systems of the organization, just energy drain on the leadership.

What can cure misalignment AND misdirection? A clear, compelling mission. When an organization has a clear, compelling mission, those who are out of alignment see where they need to come back to in order to move the organization in the right direction with less friction, wear and tear. Those who are misdirected see where the organization is headed and can decide whether they want to get on board or get off in favor of one more in line with their priorities. Either way, the organization benefits from having a clear, compelling mission.

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14

Daycare Program

Even though we closed our MDO earlier this summer, we are already making plans to open a new program after the first of the year. We realize that MDO was a ministry of the church and that we need to make sure that door is open as much as possible. That program met real needs in our community and it helped many families struggling to make ends meet get childcare that they could count on for a reasonable cost.

We are making improvements to our program and starting small, but we want to make sure that we get back into this ministry opportunity as quickly as possible.

Would you come to a church if "church" was a daycare? Would you invite your friends?

20 September 2009

Sports Programs

This video makes me want to start a building campaign so that University could have a gym! What a great way for churches to invite people into the building without the pressure of "dressing up for God" or worrying about "saying the wrong thing" because we're going to worship in the sanctuary. If we could open our doors to a basketball (or soccer or volleyball or football) league for the community, then people who wouldn't normally cross our thresholds are walking in to our church without even knowing it.

I have been part of a church that opened its doors to sports programs and the people flooded in, they couldn't get enough of kids flag football, kids cheerleading, adult softball, etc. It's a door that we need to utilize!

What if we fully took advantage of this opportunity? What if church was a basketball league? Would you come? Would you invite your friends? Would you form a team from the guys at your office and bring them with you?

18 September 2009

Prove It

Do you ever wonder if going to church every week makes a difference in your life? What would you say to a church that consistently strives to prove what they say they believe with their lives? Would you come? Would you bring a friend?

In his classic work, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, "Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace."

When the church says one thing on Sundays and does completely another thing the rest of the week, it is preaching "cheap grace." When a church puts its proverbial money where its mouth is, it is preaching "costly grace."

I want to be part of a church that intentionally seeks out ways to preach "costly grace" with our lives.

17 September 2009

Closed Door, Open Door

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous. (Ps 112.4)

Growing up the moment that dusk began to settle over the neighborhood I knew that it was time to head home. I knew that no matter where I was or what I was doing, I had to be home before dark. The one time I ignored that directive got me totally turned around, lost, confused, and in a state of panic. The darkness closed in quickly and left me with no choice but to retrace my steps and hope for help. I made it home eventually, but not without learning my lesson about the importance of arriving home before the sun set each evening.

In that dark moment, the porch light on my friend's house was a welcomed sight as it opened the door on finding my way home. E. Stanley Jones says, "If we live in God, then the closing of one door means that God is opening a larger one. But often we think only in terms of the closed door. So we weep before the closed doors instead of turning the knob of the larger door" (Growing Spiritually, 271).

The closed doors in our lives (i.e. relationships that end, jobs we lose, opportunities we miss) often drive us to our knees, but not in prayer, only in a pool of self-pity. The closed doors make us wonder about our own ability to live "successful" lives. The closed doors make us doubt God's power instead of dependant upon it.

When we "turn the knob" of a larger, open door God's provision streams into our lives. The hard part for me is that the "turning" is my responsibility. I have to take the initiative to open the door - it won't happen for me - even when God puts the door right in front of me.

How often do I weep for closed doors and end up ignoring an open one? What reminders, triggers, etc. do I need in my life to keep from missing those opportunities?

16 September 2009

Real Social Network

With the proliferation of online social networking sites, I wonder if offline social networking has become passe? My hunch is "no" because Debbie and I spent 3 hours on Friday night talking, eating, and playing games with 6 other people from church. We talked about Facebook, but we didn't all get on our computers and post on each other's walls - we looked across the table at the real people gathered in that home and broke bread together. It was great!

I'll be honest, I spend quite a bit of time online each day checking Facebook, Twitter, and my Google Calendar. However, I deal with real people in my ministry daily. I come home to a real wife and daughter everyday. I may use social media to reach out to people in my church, but there comes a time when I have to step away from the computer and talk to people face-to-face. Unfortunately, Facebook has not yet developed a "conflict resolution" app where all I need to do is click a button and my most troublesome church members get zapped into oblivion.

What if church provided the missing interaction that social networking sites just can't offer? Would you come? Would you invite your friends? Would it give you a new understanding of God and Jesus?

15 September 2009


What if we linked ecology with theology? Would it make a difference in how you view the nature of the church? Would it increase your likelihood of attending? Would it make you wonder why the church is getting "political"?

The care of creation is something I take seriously in my own life. I remember when I first came to Wichita Falls and asked about recycling efforts. The confused looks on people's faces stuck with me. I know I am not perfect and could do plenty more to help curb our taxation of Earth's resources, but I know that when we think critically about stewardship of the planet, we are doing God's work - just read Genesis 1:28-30 for a quick example.

I leafed (pun intended) through a Green Bible a few months ago and was struck by the sheer volume of scriptural support for creation care (notice how those verses are set off in green text). I didn't buy one, but applauded the creators for helping us realize the importance of increased focus on these creation care topics. I wonder if the editors ever thought about not printing it on paper, but instead making it electronic? How much more green can you get? Just a thought!

What creation care issues strike you as the most pressing?
Which ecology/theology questions does the church need to start addressing immediately?

14 September 2009

What if we Rethink Church?

This is my newsletter article for the newest edition.

Rethink Church. For some, this is an unspeakable task. They ask, “Why in the world would you want to change church?” For some, this is the most exciting thing that the United Methodist Church has undertaken in the last 50 years. They ask, “What took so long?” For some, this is another program doomed to languish in the sea of ineffectiveness. They ask, “Why should I invest in this when it will be gone soon and I’ll still be here?”

There are probably a dozen more perspectives from which to see the Rethink Church initiative. What’s yours? What lenses do you use to view the efforts of the global UMC as it seeks to put new tools into our toolkit? How do those lenses keep the efforts of this local church in perspective?

Over the years, many different metaphors have come in and out of “fashion” when talking about individual and communal efforts to “rethink church” and what it means to faithfully follow God. One image that United Methodists have continued to return to during our history is the image of walking. Walking with God. Walking together in community. Walking alone (in times of spiritual despair). Walking, one foot in front of the other. Walking, one of the first large motor skills a child learns. Walking, something that many people take for granted because they can and have never had a point in their life where they couldn’t. Walking.

Twentieth century Methodist missionary and theologian, E. Stanley Jones, wrote: “In walking, equilibrium is upset by every movement in order to make progress. The upset is to set us on our way. God has to allow enough upset to come into our lives to break up the equilibrium in order to make us move forward” (Growing Spiritually, pg 265, emphasis mine).

As we continue our journey to Rethink Church here at University UMC, I pray that your equilibrium is upset over the next three weeks. I pray that, like in walking, your equilibrium is upset to the point that it “make[s] us move forward.” Our church’s walk with God can only move forward by our willingness to endure disequilibrium. I would encourage you to track your moments of disequilibrium over the next three weeks. Ask yourself why those moments are producing such an off-balance feeling and seek God for an honest answer to the question.

As I mentioned on Sunday, the Rethink Church initiative is an effort of the entire UMC, but Jesus spent a good portion of his ministry attempting to get religious people to rethink their preconceived notions about what following God looked like. In addition, part of our doctrinal heritage as United Methodists includes “the sober realization that the church is in need of continual reformation and renewal” (Book of Discipline, Para. 101, pg 44).

Be on the look out for Rethink Church questions on your tables at Cornerstone Café and on the church website during the rest of this series!

Introduction to Rethink Church

Throughout the next three weeks I will be posting various videos, links, and commentary on the UMC's Rethink Church initiative. I thought it only appropriate to start with the original campaign video.

Visit 10thousanddoors.org to get a greater sense of how people are responding to this initiative and check back here for more of my own thoughts and your reactions to our efforts to Rethink Church.

03 September 2009

For all the animal people out there...

The Libby's don't have a dog right now, but I had one growing up and I resonate with this video completely. Miss you Charlie!

HT: Amy and Mary Beth

26 August 2009

Our New Niece

Bailey Michelle Sheppard
August 26, 2009
6 lbs, 10 oz
20 inches

17 August 2009

Flower Bed Learnings, Part 3

And finally...

Without regular attention and maintenance,
any spiritual growth can be derailed.

I mow the yard once a week on Friday mornings during the summer. During the winter the grass lies dormant and I pray that it comes back in the spring. This is my routine for lawn maintenance - it works for me and produces the desired results - most of the time.

One of the things I have not explored here in WF is the idea of entering into a contract with a lawn care service to do weed control, fertilization, and the like so that I don't have to. I mention this because one of the things I have discovered in my yard is the proliferation of crab grass throughout. It is driving me crazy and I am not sure what to do about it.

As I was pulling weeds and grass from the flower beds I realized that my current maintenance efforts were not producing the results I wanted to see in regards to keeping weeds out of the flower beds and creating clear delineations between the yard and the beds. I needed something more. I needed some outside advice or some professional help to get to the next level.

Here's the spiritual application...
We all (should) have spiritual disciplines that we practice on a regular basis to help us grow closer to God. John Wesley calls them "means of grace." You may call it journaling, prayer, worship, golf, fishing, whatever...

The point is this: we all need practices in our lives that help us tune in to the Divine.

When we stray too far from those practices we become distant from God and ineffective in our calling. I know that when I forget (more likely: don't make time) to read and reflect on scripture outside of sermon prep time my spirit starts to sag and I am much more prone to sin. I know that I need to keep filling my soul with the Word of God and this works for me - most of the time.

There are times when I need more than just journaling. There are times when I need to be with people to feel my spirit filled. There are times when I need to serve others to feel my spirit filled. There are times when I need to listen to powerful worship music to feel my spirit filled.

I would bet that all of you need different "soul-filling activities" at different times in your life too.

In the end, without regularly checking the level on your spirit's "tank" you may run dry and burnout. We all need regular engagement with "soul-filling activities" to keep heading toward God's best for our lives. And sometimes we need professional help to give us options, resources, and new ways of thinking in order to maintain our journey with Christ.

Which spiritual disciplines resonate with you the most? How do you regularly practice them? Who are the "experts" you turn to for fresh insights?

Previous posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2

Flower Bed Learnings, Part 2

My ventures out into the yard to tend to our flower beds unexpectedly provided me with inspiration and insight into my own spiritual journey. Here is the second thing I learned that weekend:

Even good stuff (grass) can creep where it doesn't belong
and begin to feel like bad stuff (weeds).

Like many other North Texans, I am happy that my grass is surviving the summer heat and looks green without draining my wallet to water it. However, as I spent time close to the earth last weekend, I noticed a disturbing trend at the edges of my yard - "grass creep" (I just made up that term).

When my grass grows it puts out shoots that grow horizontally (along the ground) and roots that grow vertically (into the ground). The only things that keep the grass from encroaching are solid boundaries - i.e. sidewalks, driveways, curbs, the patio, the foundation, and flower bed borders.

Since I did not install flower bed borders on the two beds in question here, the "grass creep" was unsuccessfully being held at bay by my weekly weed-whacker trips. Needless to say, I might have won a few battles along the way, but the grass was winning the war.

As I pulled out more and more roots and shoots (s0me of which had weaved themselves into the weed block) I knew that something permanent must be set up in order to avoid facing this same battle week after week, month after month, and year after year. I discovered that I needed to set up appropriate boundaries on the flower beds to keep something good from becoming something unhealthy.

Here's the spiritual application...
Some of us are "on" 24/7 and fail to take the appropriate steps to unplug from the world on a regular basis. We have let our jobs, careers, ministries, etc. become overwhelming in our lives. We have let a good thing encroach upon our whole lives to the point that there is such entanglement we can no longer tell where we start and the employee (boss, CEO, lawyer, pastor) stops.

Perhaps the best thing some of us can do to renew our spirits is to establish boundaries in our lives that actually prohibit encroachment from otherwise good things on certain days, weeks, times of the year. Perhaps we need to reclaim our Sabbath-taking heritage. Perhaps we need to turn off our cell phones every once in a while. Perhaps we don't need to sleep with our laptops right next to our beds. Perhaps...

Because when we experience "grass creep" in our lives we are less able to live into the calling that God has on our lives. We are less able to experience true rest and rejuvenation. We are less able to slow down and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Remember, grass is a good thing to have growing in your yard, but it becomes a nuisance when it gets into your flower beds.

What parts of your life have experienced "grass creep"? What does your Sabbath ritual look like?

Previous post in this series: Part 1

12 August 2009

Flower Bed Learnings, Part 1

Establishing clear boundaries are essential to sustained spiritual health.

As I discovered that most of the work I would undertake as a weekend gardener was pulling out grass that had crossed my weed-wacker established boundary, I realized that I may have demarcated a boundary in one sense, but it was nowhere near a permanent boundary.

The weed-wacked trench between the yard and flower beds was only temporarily successful. There was no way for me to keep the grass from encroaching on the flower beds with any sustained success. I need a new/different way to establish that boundary. I need to install edging around the flower beds so that a permanent blocker exists to keep the grass out of the beds.

Here's the spiritual application...
If we do not have clear, definable, and (semi)permanent boundaries established in our lives, there will always be a battle going on to keep the grass at bay.

If I don't shut my office door, sit down with my Bible and journal, and take the time to pray, read scripture and reflect, there will always be something else that can take up that time.

If I don't work hard Sunday through Thursday to produce my weekly deliverables, then Friday and Saturday can experience "work creep" from unfinished tasks.

If I don't take a vacation with my family every year, then I start to dry up emotionally and become exhausted.

If I don't take time away to plan for future ministry, then I start to run on empty and can't lead the church from a place of overflow.

What boundaries do you need to establish? Where have you allowed the grass to grow into the flower beds? Who do you need to talk with about working on these boundaries?

What boundaries have you established? How do you keep those boundaries sacrosanct?

PS - I have already priced both metal and plastic borders for our flower beds, but I haven't decided which one to go with. Hopefully this project will be finished before Caitlyn's fourth birthday!

I Thought Epiphany Only Happened in January!

Over the weekend I spent a few hours removing weeds and over-grown grass from the flower beds in both the front and back yards. As I was crawling around on my knees I had a moment of clarity about cultivating our own spirituality.

If you don't establish boundaries in your life, then bad (or seemingly harmless) stuff starts to creep into places it shouldn't.

First, a little history lesson...
About a year ago, Deb and I decided to fix up the flower beds in our yard so that they would look nice for Caitlyn's third birthday party. We decided to remove some bushes (that didn't match the other bushes) in the front beds and plant matching bushes for green and some mums for color. In the back, we decided to plant some green and gold shrubs around the fence line and put potted mums at the outer corner of the bed.

When we did all this work we spent several weekends in a row de-weeding the beds, cleaning up the existing foliage, and preparing the beds for new plant life. We made sure to put down a layer of weed block before dumping new mulch into the beds. However, one of the things we did not do was to purchase and install any kind of border treatments to clearly delineate the flower beds from the yard.

Now, back to this past weekend...
My original intention for my flower bed work was to remove the weeds that had made their way thru the weed block and make sure they were all gone, but what I found myself doing most often was clearing away grass that had crept over the non-existent boundary between the yard and the flower beds. It was in the midst of yanking out the tentacles of St. Augustine that I received a divine whisper saying, "This is why you need a Sabbath."

It stopped me in my tracks.

I learned three things from those moments in the dirt:
  • Establishing clear boundaries are essential to sustained spiritual health
  • Even good stuff (grass) can creep where it doesn't belong and begin to feel like bad stuff (weeds)
  • Without regular attention and maintenance, any spiritual growth can be derailed
I'll spend the rest of this week expounding on these three points.

So, what epiphanies have you had while attending to the yard, flowers, house, etc.? What moments of clarity in the midst of regular living have stopped you in your tracks?

11 August 2009

Go Mustang VB!

Tonight University hosted the MSU Volleyball Team for dinner in the Fellowship Hall. I am proud of the number of church members who cooked food, served drinks, and/or sat and talked with the players tonight.

I enjoyed meeting Reagan (FR) and Karolina (JR) and look forward to getting to know the rest of the team throughout the year. The first home game of the season is during the MSU Hampton Inn-vitational September 4th-5th, so let's go fill the stands at D.L. Ligon in support of "our team"!

04 August 2009

Wholehearted Work Ahead

A few weeks ago I read about the Judean (Southern Kingdom) king, Hezekiah, who spent twenty-nine years on the throne in Jerusalem. The verse that caught my eye that morning was 2 Chronicles 31:21 which says, “In everything that [Hezekiah] undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.”

As I read that verse and reflected on Hezekiah’s leadership in Judah, I made these observations.
Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (29:2) during his reign as king of Judah. Including, purifying the temple and reinstituting the Passover celebration. Hezekiah did not fall victim to the wiles of those who distracted his predecessors. Hezekiah did not let other gods come between him and the Lord. Hezekiah took his role as the king seriously and looked for ways to seek God through his service as the king.

Hezekiah started off on the right foot (29:3) by attending to the neglected Temple, priests, and sacrifices. Hezekiah did not waste time with his own projects, he sought to put God back into God’s rightful place in the lives of the people of God.

Hezekiah did nothing half-heartedly when it came to the Lord. Hezekiah sought God and worked wholeheartedly in everything. He never let up, he never settled for less, and he never lost focus on who this was for. And scripture affirms that “he prospered.”

After making those observations, I began to ask questions of my own life, my life in ministry, and the life and ministry of University UMC. Here’s what I wrote in my journal:
Can I honestly describe my ministry in the terms that are used for Hezekiah here? Have I done everything seeking God and with a whole heart? Honestly? No. Not at all. I can say there are clear moments and seasons of ministry that have been done that way, but there are just as many (if not more) moments and seasons where it has been all about being cool or all about me. That’s sad, but true.

After penning these thoughts, questions, and insights I felt the Holy Spirit telling me that my life and ministry needed to take a turn toward action – instead of just settling for reading and writing. As our journey with the Congregational Transformation process begins this October, I am praying (as I hope you are as well) for our church to embrace this opportunity wholeheartedly. I want our next three years of ministry at University to be clearly focused on God and God’s direction for us. I want nothing to pull us off course – nothing to get in the way of prospering in the midst of our transformation.

To that end, on August 23rd we will begin a new three-week series entitled, “The Three R’s: Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmatic”. The first week of the series (“Reading”) will challenge you to crack open that Bible sitting on your shelf at home to experience what reading God’s Word on a regular basis can do for your life. The second week (“Writing”) will explore different spiritual disciplines that can supplement your scripture reading. The third week (“’Rithmatic”) will explore the Holy Spirit’s power to combine the elements of the previous two weeks into action that have the potential to transform your life and University UMC as a whole.

I look forward to seeing you in worship this weekend (Aug 9th – where we will finish the Kaleo series and share Holy Communion) and next weekend (Aug 16th) when we will learn and practice the “5-10-Link” Rule!

22 July 2009

Kaleo Week #2 Questions

As a lead up to this weekend's message on generosity, I want to discuss this excerpt from Adam Hamilton's book, Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity. (Notice this is the fourth in a series of excerpts from the book - you can read the others here, here, and here.)

Does Adam hit home for you? Do you hear the "voices" of fear and self-gratification whispering in your ears? How do you cultivate generosity in your life?

For Deb and I, those two "voices" shouted at us constantly - especially when we were first starting out as a married couple. Nowadays we don't hear them very much, but it took us quite a while to move beyond hearing them every time we faced a financial decision.

Honestly, if I had to pin down one particular decision that moved us past the "voices" it would be our decision to begin tithing (giving 10% of our income to the work of God in the world). Once we made that prayerful decision, the "voices" of fear and self-gratification got much, much quieter in our lives.


Here is an interesting corollary article on passing the plate.

15 July 2009

Where Does Transformation Begin?

As University considers engaging in the Congregational Transformation process, I must admit that this article from the Alban Institute piqued my curiosity. Go ahead and read it...its a little long, but I'll wait for you to get back...go.

Pretty interesting, huh?

Honestly, the opening paragraph could have come out of my mouth at any point in time over the last few months. I think it has crossed my brain at least a thousand times - even if it never has made an audible escape yet.

This is the paragraph I want University to wrestle with as we discern our involvement with the congregational transformation process:
Here's the hard truth. If you're a layperson in a congregation that's experiencing decline, whether the congregation thrives is ultimately up to you and the other members. Your pastor can teach, guide, lead, support, inspire, even cajole. But in the end, congregational health is a function of how people in the congregation relate to one another, to God, and to their community.
Wow! I am caught between emotions as I reread that paragraph. I feel relief to know that it is not my job to make the congregation change, but I also feel discouraged at how quickly negative reactions have bubbled up from the congregation at our possible engagement in the transformation process.

Further in the article, the authors say:
The church-growth movement is often blamed for leading congregations down the path of thinking that bigger is better and that increased numbers equal health and growth. That movement did, however, help raise the question of how to measure congregational health. If the measure is not dollars in the bank or people in the pews, what is it? We hear congregations and pastors wrestling with questions that weren't on the table twenty years ago. "What's the fundamental purpose of church? What difference is a congregation supposed to make in the lives of its members and in its surrounding community? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? What does it mean to be spiritual? What difference do spiritual practices make?"
Indeed those are good questions. Question every church should endeavor to answer on a regular basis - not necessarily to find new answers (although that may be necessary some time), but to remind themselves of why they do what they do. When was the last time University asked some of these questions?

In addition to understanding our fundamental purpose as a church, we must understand what is driving us toward renewal. Is it fear of closing the church? Is it a desire to keep our programs going? Or is it something else? The authors posit:
Fear of having to close the church or to reduce the services offered to members typically prompts a congregation's desire for renewal: "We need to do something now, if we're going to still be open a decade from now." This desire to avoid death drives many renewal efforts, and it certainly provides energy. But if the congregation itself doesn't ultimately trade its fear of death for a longing for life, the efforts will end as soon as the danger has passed.
I have wondered (not out loud) lately if this "fear of death" rather than a "longing for life" is a transition in thought that we can make. Which are we more afraid of: failing ourselves in not being able to sustain our current level of ministry OR failing God in not responding to God's call to make disciples? In whom do we trust, us or God?

One more quote before opening up the floor for conversation:
Before others will turn to a congregation as a life-giving resource in their lives, the congregation has to be a place that offers life.
Are we life-giving? How? When? To whom?

13 July 2009

Drawing Near

"[L]et us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." Hebrews 10.22

The writer of Hebrews calls upon his hearers to have full confidence in the power of God to remove the stain of sin and grant them access to the throne of God. The writer encourages the people to "draw near" because they are forgiven and redeemed people through their faith in Christ. This "nearness" comes about through a sincere heart of faith, a heart sprinkled clean, and a body washed in pure water.

The image of approaching the throne of God is a powerfully humbling one in that I struggle with my own worthiness to do such a thing. However, the writer calls us to respond faithfully to God's call to be nearer - he already made the approach possible through Christ.

It seems that Wesley's house metaphor rings true once again here - "cleansed from a guilty conscience" (justification) and "sincere heart in full assurance" (sanctification) and "bodies washed in pure water" (baptism as a sign of repentance).

I want to draw near to God on an hourly basis, not just a daily basis. I want everything I do to be born out of my time spent reflecting on God's Word. I need to make this time each morning a priority that never gets trampled on by less important things.

I need to rest and reflect with God's Word in my heart. I will not be able to to sustain this pace of ministry without doing so. Without concerted effort to change the parameters of my morning, this will just be another good idea that won't get any traction. This idea needs traction, feet, legs, arms, hands, and heart - it needs everything I've got and a God who can fill in the gaps for me. I think this idea also needs some help from a few good buddies - we are made to be in community, right?

Lord, you have set a high calling before me and I know that I must rely on you to carry it out it its fullest. Holy Spirit, nudge me to put my relationship with you as priority #1 and speak to the hearts of those who would stand in your way. As I draw near, keep my assurance full and my faith strong. In Jesus' name. Amen.

08 July 2009

Great News for a Great Congregation

I received a very exciting piece of news in the mail on Monday afternoon from our District Superintendent, Rev. John Rosenburg. University UMC has been invited to participate in a three-year congregational transformation process in conjunction with the North Texas Conference’s renewed efforts to develop new churches and transform existing ones.

This process will begin this Fall under the direction of Don Nations of DNA Coaching and will offer the staff and lay leadership on our congregation the opportunity to learn in training events, coaching sessions, on-site visits, a personalized consultation report, access to the client-only side of the DNA Coaching website, as well as other tools and resources throughout the process.

Here is a quote from Rev. Rosenburg’s letter, “Because I believe in you and your church, the N[orth] T[exas] C[onference] will pick up half the cost for the churches who accept this invitation.” Our District Superintendent believes that University UMC can once again be a “vital and vibrant congregation which makes a significant impact on [our] community”! He believes in us and I believe in us!

The Church Council will meet on Thursday night to discuss a number of topics, including a vote on this invitation. If you, too, believe that University UMC can be a “vital and vibrant congregation” then let someone you know on Church Council know how you feel. This is an incredible opportunity for us to hear from church growth experts as well as local church “heroes” who are doing incredible ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. This will be a great time of learning, stretching, and growing that will launch us into the next phase of the life of our congregation. Please be in prayer for the Church Council and the rest of the leadership of our church as we begin this process of transformation.

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.
The Mission of the United Methodist Church, Para. 120 Book of Discipline

02 July 2009

Two Difficult Questions, Part 1

On Monday afternoon I received an email from a church member who has become someone I can rely on to be inquisitive and thoughtful regarding just about everything - especially on spiritual matters. He read this article from Saturday's newspaper, recalled Romans 12:2, and posed two very interesting questions. Questions that I have wrestled with for the last few days and have just now been able to gain some clarity on.

Here is an excerpt from his email:
Toward the end he describes how "contemporary" services have been important in reaching out to the new generation, and how churches that don't reach out, can lose their vitality. This reminds me of two things. First, how we have experimented with this new format earlier this Spring. Second, how Grant Street UMC has died, apparently of "old age."
He continues with his first question:
By experimenting with contemporary worship, are we trying to conform to the world, and leaving behind our faithful Christian transformation?
Here is my answer:
No, contemporary worship is not "conforming to the world" in my understanding. I believe contemporary worship has the potential to provide a life-transforming experience for countless people who cannot (or have not) connect(ed) musically with organ, choirs, and hymns. It provides an on-ramp for non-Christians to find commonality between their life and the life that Christ offers them (and us).

Also, establishing a contemporary worship experience does not necessitate leaving behind "faithful Christian transformation" because it allows new people (and perhaps some current people) an opportunity to connect with God and have God transform their life in a way that we are not currently offering.

Now, as a pastor of a multi-generational congregation, I understand that a contemporary worship experience would not meet the needs of all of the people whom we are trying to reach with our Sunday morning worship experience. If University were to offer a contemporary worship experience, then we would need to keep the best of our current worship experience - thus moving to two worship experiences on Sunday mornings. This endeavor provides its own challenges, but that's for another post.

I'll end my answer with this...offering a contemporary worship experience is not a panacea - it will not cure all that ails us as a congregation. There is much work to be done on other fronts as well, but I was not asked about those fronts in this email.

Here is the second question:
Or by refusing to utilize contemporary worship, are we trying to conform to a world that is dying, and refusing to let ourselves be transformed by Christian growth?
I'll post my answer tomorrow!

04 June 2009

Quick Book Review

Last week I read a book entitled Doing Ministry in Hard Times by Bill Easum and Bill Tenny-Brittain. Rarely do I read a book in a single sitting, but this book is an exception to that rule. I couldn't stop reading it and I wanted to finish it before going to sleep. I also wanted to get it into the hands of some key people in the life of University so that they could read it and lose some sleep over it as I have.

I wanted to share a few key insights from the book that may change how I approach leading this congregation through the next 18-24 months:
  • there are two wildcards at play in the world today that make it difficult for churches to be successful while maintaining a status quo operational strategy: the cultural wildcard and the financial wildcard
  • strategic dreaming trumps strategic planning during hard times
  • there are ministries that should be cut during tough times (office personnel, missions, youth, non-essential ministries, money in the bank)
  • there are ministries that should be allocated more financial resources during tough times (worship, children, evangelism, marketing, continuing ed, volunteer ministries, small groups, spiritual formation)
  • hard times are the times to return to the basics - "sheep have a habit of getting so involved in feeding themselves that they munch along for hours without ever looking up to see where they are....Many Christians do the same. We munch our way so far from our roots that we don't realize how far we have removed ourselves from what we once were and what once made us great. Our greatness is only a memory." (pg 18)
  • "Without Jesus Christ, our congregations are nothing more than clubs on the lookout for just enough new dues-paying members to support their programs and keep their buildings open....Sadly, far too many churches actually organize themselves around this loss of passion for Jesus. Instead of organizing to spread the Gospel, they organize to run the institution." (pg 21)
  • cancel all the committee meetings you can for the next six months and see what happens
  • "If you have any money saved up for a raining day, let us remind you lest you hadn't noticed. It's raining." (pg 29)
  • in hard times, churches need to be led with quick and decisive action, flexibility, intuition, and self-regulation
  • all of this (reading the book, making strategic budget cuts, etc.) is worthless if there is unresolved conflict within the church
Which of these points strikes you the most (either positively or negatively)? Why?

I have already given copies of this book to our Finance Chair, our Business Administrator, and our Director of Discipleship. If you would like a copy of this book, email me and I'll get it to you.

03 June 2009

Random One-Liners, Part 2

Here's the other one-liner from yesterday's conversations:

Sometimes we think that the color of the carpet is more important than the people who walk on it.

This came out of my mouth within a conversation about the prevalence of "politicking" within the church. One of my buddies is in the throws of a serious round of "he-said/he-said" in his congregation and is fed up with getting placed in the middle of all the mud-slinging.

As we were talking about how to deal with antagonists in the church, we landed on the idea that when these political games are playing themselves out, the innocent bystanders are the ones who get lost in the shuffle or pushed aside.

How many times have you seen well-meaning Christians duke it out over the color of the carpet in the Narthex, rather than battle against the forces of evil for the good of the Kingdom of God? In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if the carpet is red, green, blue, rainbow, or plaid when there are people in our community that will never set foot inside the church to hear the gospel because the church won't spend a dime proclaiming the message of grace through Jesus Christ out in the community?

As I look out on the possible landscape of my second year of ministry at University, I want to make sure that I care far more about the people who walk on the carpet than I do about the color of it. The former will advance the Kingdom of God. The latter will only advance the Kingdom of University UMC.

I don't know about you, but I want to advance God's Kingdom, not my kingdom.


Random One-Liners, Part 1

I spent several hours in ministry-related conversations yesterday (one with a staff member and one with some clergy buddies) and came away from each convo with a one-liner that I thought you might be interested in hearing and/or commenting on. I'll share one now and one later this afternoon.

Church ministry is not "Calvin-ball"!

Those of you who have worked in a church or been in leadership within the church know that one of the things that frustrates people to no end is rules that change in the middle of the game. If you are fan of Calvin & Hobbes (and who isn't?!) then you already get what I am about to say. (For those of you who've never heard of C&H - shame on you!)

When playing a rousing game of Calvin-ball with Hobbes, Calvin was (in)famous for changing the rules in the middle of the game to suit his own desires, his own needs, or his own current predicament - often without warning and without notifying the other player (Hobbes). This frustrated Hobbes to no end each time they played the game and often resulted in a knock-down, drag-out fight between the two of them.

The same principle applies for ministry within the church.

When pastors, staff, or other leaders within the church change the rules of the game without warning, then a fight is inevitable.
  • A fight from those directly affected by the changes,
  • a fight from those who don't agree with the changes, AND
  • a fight from those who made the changes.
It really becomes a no-win situation very quickly.

Now, I am not saying that I am faultless in this category, because I most certainly am guilty of changing the rules mid-game before. However, I try my best to notify as many people as possible of the rule changes ahead of time. Do I always do that perfectly? Absolutely not! Does it still make me mad when it happens? Absolutely!

I believe the real learning takes place when church leaders take a step back and see where they have made a "Calvin-ball style" mistake and take necessary steps to recover from that mistake. I also believe that permanent damage can be inflicted upon a congregation when leaders fail to learn from their mistakes.

What "Calvin-ball style" mistakes have you witnessed/made? What did you do about them?

19 May 2009

Confession Time

We just finished the most successful series in the last 12 months on Mother's Day. So why do I feel like we are still dealing with issues that existed long before I arrived?

I've had two enlightening conversations in the past 24 hours and I have a feeling that both of them are right and I am misguided. (I remember saying something about "having a Nathan, aka Editor (read: butt-kicker)" back in November from the pulpit.) Those two conversations put words to the feelings I was having during the latter part of the Sound Vows series - this isn't my material, I just borrowed it because it worked somewhere else and tried to replicate it here.

In an era of ministry where I can (try to) absorb the best practices of churches all across the globe from my desktop, Mark Batterson rightly points out that "one God idea is better than one thousand good ideas." He expands his thinking on that concept here, here, here, and here.

I now realize that Granger's "God idea" became University's "good idea" and the impact here was perhaps less than it could have been. Therefore, I have spent a few days re-evaluating the preaching schedule for the rest of 2009 and trying to find more ways to seek God's direction for worship here at University, not adopting other church's success in order to try and make it our success.

I covet your prayers during this season of discernment and apologize for not taking my own advice until now.

Update: Read this post from MarkB - it's like he's writing just for me this week!

18 May 2009

Thoughts on the Worship Surveys

It's official! I completed my analysis of the Sound Vows Surveys this afternoon.

I must say that I was surprised by a few things:
  1. the relatively low view (3.51/5) of an increased amount of time for people to talk to each other before worship
  2. the number of married people (9/44, or 20.5%) who indicated a series on marriage had little to no application (N/A, 1, or 2) to their life
  3. the number of people in worship (13/63, or 20.6%) who wanted to take less time to prepare our hearts for prayer during worship
Now, I know I asked for the feedback, so I shouldn't be upset when someone launches a missive at me or the way we plan worship at University, but my pride took a hit reading the responses. I also discovered that I did not communicate well about the reasons behind the choices made for worship during the series. I apologize for that - that is poor leadership on my part.

Overall, the results were positive. I will need to do some more reflection, prayer, and discernment about how we can incorporate this feedback into future message series here at University.

More later!

13 May 2009

Sound Vows Surveys

When I decided to hand out surveys to the congregation as a feedback tool after the Sound Vows series, I was not sure what the response would be. I knew there would be people who would shout about the band (both positively and negatively) and I knew there would be people who would shout about the longer services (we averaged about 70 minutes each week for the series).

I have intentionally not looked at any of the surveys yet because I only want to look through them one or two times as a collective group. I don't want to spend the entire week fretting over comments made by people who complain about the sun coming up and the sun coming down. I just didn't want to do that to myself - for sanity reasons.

If you were not in church on Sunday and would like a survey, you can stop by the church office to pick one up or email me for a .pdf copy of it and bring it with you on your next trip to the church. All I ask is that you please turn it in by Sunday, May 17th so that the worship staff (and the rest of the staff) can begin to work through the data. Thanks!

11 May 2009

Message Sets for Sound Vows

If you would like a copy of all the sermons from "Sound Vows" (or know someone who needs to hear them) send an email to support@uumcwf.org with that request. Or you can visit the website and download the files to iTunes for on-the-go access!

Sound Vows Celebrations

Yesterday we finished our "Sound Vows" series with a flourish on Mother's Day.

I want to go on record to say that I felt like this was our best series since I have been at University! This series had an energy and a "feel" that has not been palpable since I came here in June. I really felt like people came to worship anticipating what would happen, rather than settling in for "what we've always done."

Each week I track our stats in several key areas - not the least of which is worship attendance. I was amazed to compute that our average weekend attendance for this series was 167! That's 38 people more than we averaged during all of 2008! That's 45 people more than we averaged during the same time period last year! AND it's 27 people more than we were averaging so far for 2009! Praise God!

I am not ashamed to tell you that I am a numbers guy. Because I know that each of those numbers represents a person who gets to hear the gospel message and has an opportunity to know that God loves them right where they are.
  • I am excited that we have more people in worship right now than we did a year ago.
  • I am excited that we had more people in worship during this series than we did prior to this series so far this year.
  • I am excited that University is moving up and to the right again!
I pray that the momentum we are building right now continues to bring in new faces and continue to spread buzz around town about what we are doing here at University UMC. I also pray that we can find ways to learn how to assimilate the new folks who have become part of our church over these past five weeks. I want this series to be a "shot in the arm" for this congregation!

20 April 2009

What a Weekend!

I thought that our Easter celebration last weekend blew the roof off the building, but this weekend was just as awesome!
On Friday I am heading to Plano for the privilege of performing the wedding of one of my youth from First UMC. Should be a ton of fun, but a brutal drive back on Saturday night to preach Sunday morning. Prayers please!

Sunday morning's song: "Hey There Delilah" by The Plain White Tees

16 April 2009

Anne is on her way!

I am so excited that I get to meet Anne Jackson this weekend! She will be talking about her book Mad Church Disease and spending some time with a few local area pastors, church staffers, and lay leaders on Sunday evening here at University UMC.

We are very proud to have her coming to speak and look forward to her words of hope, encouragement, and enlightenment.

And, yes. That is my personal copy of MCD!

09 April 2009

Sound Vows Launches on Easter

Our new sermon series launches this weekend at 10:50am and I am crazy excited about how God will move in the life of our church because of this series.

This weekend will be a full-blown gospel presentation and I believe that lives will be changed this weekend! Do whatever it takes to get your friends and family to University this weekend!

08 April 2009

Danielle & Josh

So I did premarital counseling again tonight via Skype (so cool by the way!) and captured this shot of them. I would totally do PMC this way in the future!


I have read some blog posts that have punched me in the face before, but usually it was the whole thing, not just one line. When I read Mark Batterson's post this morning this one line - a quote from Albert Schweitzer - punched me in the face, hard!

It is Albert Schweitzer who once observed: "The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives."

WHAM! For the full effect, read the whole post, but I felt like the quote was worth extra attention.


05 April 2009

Easter Extravaganza

Saturday, UUMC's Children's Ministry hosted our first Easter Extravaganza and the place was hoppin'!!

I challenged AndyK to a sumo wrestling match and we both decided that the thought was better than the execution - it was HOT Saturday! And those suits are not made of the most breathable material! Here's the proof of our adventure! Enjoy!

Holy Week Activities

I can't encourage you enough to participate in the Holy Week activities here at University UMC! Here's a rundown of what's coming up.

Wednesday, April 8th
6:00pm Cornerstone Cafe
6:30pm Final Lenten Lecture, from my buddy Tim Marks

Thursday, April 9th
7:00pm Maundy Thursday Worship
Experiential worship with stations for Holy Communion, foot-washing, journaling, and candle-lighting
(8:00pm First Rehearsal for Sound Vows Band)

Friday, April 10th
7:00pm Good Friday Worship
Journey with Christ as we participate in the Stations of the Cross in a wonderful outdoor (weather permitting) worship service

Sunday, April 12th
9:30am Sunday School
10:30am Fellowship Time in Narthex - join us for Coffee & Cookies
10:50am Sound Vows Series kicks off with a celebration of the Resurrection

This week will be a great way to remember the final week of Christ's life and celebrate his victory over death and sin. Remember, there is no need for resurrection if there is no death, so don't rush from Palm Sunday (today) to Easter Sunday without slowing down long enough to reflect on Christ's sacrifice for us on Good Friday.

I look forward to seeing as many of you as I can in worship Thursday, Friday, AND Sunday!

(And don't forget to park at the far end of the parking lot on Easter morning!)

02 April 2009

Another First!

Tonight's going to be my first attempt at premarital counseling via Skype!

Don't I look cool? (I know, not really!)

19 March 2009

Phone Call from a Celebrity

Yesterday morning I spoke with this wonderful person on the phone! I am so excited about her coming to University next month that I can't hardly stand it! She'll be here on April 19th, let me know if you want to be here when she is.

12 March 2009

Reflections on a "Not Yet"

I apologize for not posting this sooner, but life in ministry never seems to slow down when I have something that I want to spend a little time reflecting on. Oh well!

On February 23 I interviewed with P&Q to determine whether or not the Board of Ordained Ministry of the North Texas Conference would recommend me for ordination as an Elder in Full Connection this June at Annual Conference.

After 3 hours of interviews and 1.5 hours of deliberation, P&Q came back with their decision - "not yet." I must admit that I was stunned at first, but when I look back on the three interviews I see the validity of their decision. I listened quietly as they explained their reasons for continuing me and I held it together until the three people who came to give me the news prayed for me. I broke down again when Deb came into the room and I had to tell her the news.

As I listened to their reasons for continuing me in the process I visualized the disappointment on the faces of my congregation - how they might not understand, how they might be angry at me or at the Board. I wasn't sure how I was going to tell them.

Fortunately, as I heard the reasons for the "not yet" they also affirmed my gifts and graces for ministry, my effectiveness in ministry, and my potential for a successful, long-term career in the North Texas Conference. They also unequivocally stated that each member of the Board want me to be part of the connection - they want to ordain me, but they also want to make sure that the people whom they send to the Bishop for ordination have a solid, Wesleyan theological foundation from which to do ministry.

As I look back on my "not yet" I see that their comments were right on. I see that my Wesleyan theological reflection was shaky at best during the interview. I see that I still have work to do in obtaining a solid, Wesleyan theological underpining for my ministry.

I see that they love and support me and want me to succeed.
I see that my church loves and supports me and wants me to succeed.
I see that my family loves me and wants me to succeed.
I see that God loves me and wants me to succeed.

My "not yet" is not the end of the world for me. It will be hard for me to watch my residency group get ordained without me this summer, but I am committed to working hard on the items the Board has identified. I am committed to serving University UMC with all my heart over the next year.

Now, let's get to work!

11 March 2009

Sex for 30 Days

I want to start making "announcements" like this!

Beeson's Recommended Reading from Granger Community on Vimeo.

Check out the original context for this video here. Check out Mark Beenson's blog!

More tomorrow!